As a young girl new to Maui, Lynn Sakutori was enrolled by her mom in a 4-H program so she could make friends and "just integrate with the community."
"Through 4-H, I met people. I started to do summer sewing classes," said Sakutori, a 1994 Baldwin High School graduate who moved from Oahu when she was 11. "I would sew everything. On my free time, I would go home and sew an outfit for the next day. That became my hobby. Ever since then, I wanted to do fashion. I love to sew."
About 20 years later, Sakutori turned her hobby and passion into a career that has taken her to Oahu and New York, where she has worked for notable designers such as Kenneth Cole and Nine West as well as done freelance designing for kids clothing wear company OshKosh B'gosh, among others.
Former Maui girl and fashion designer Lynn Sakutori has had much success, with her Sakutori line of clothing for petites being sold at Nordstrom on Oahu. The 1994 Baldwin High School graduate also owns RPM Sales Inc., a clothing manufacturing business on Oahu with products that include several labels of clothing sold at Macy’s and Sears.
Clothes from her “Cinnamon Story” group are shown.
Now an Oahu resident, the 36-year-old launched her own line, Sakutori, which is being sold at the Nordstrom store on Oahu, where she was surprised by how well her line of clothes for petites has done.
On June 16, she had a trunk show of her latest designs at the Ala Moana store, where she saw "a sea of people" snatching up her knit and woven blouses, short dresses and tulip-hem crop pants, which are a big seller.
"That was very surprising," Sakutori said of the overwhelming customer response.
Sakutori said her line had already been selling at Nordstrom on Oahu and performed so well that she figured the publicized trunk show also would do well, "but not at that rate."
She said that out of the 357 pieces on the floor June 16 more than half were sold out in one day.
Standing only 5-foot-2-inches tall, Sakutori knows what it's like for petite women to shop for clothes, and her clothing line is dedicated to Hawaii's smaller women.
"I understand. I had a hard time finding clothing . . . I felt that if I had a hard time, most people would have a hard time, too," she said.
The designer described her clothing as "Asian-inspired with a contemporary twist." She said there are pleating details inspired by kimonos and a lot of clean lines.
Her line is dedicated for women in their 30s to 50s, although Sakutori said she saw women in their 20s buying her clothes as well.
Sakutori's longtime sewing teacher, Bette Nomura of Waikapu, said Sakutori is the most successful student she has ever had and knew that Sakutori had talent when she was a little girl.
"I'm really, really proud of her," Nomura said last week.
She said Sakutori showed drive and talent when she started sewing at 11 years old.
"You could see that from her young age, she's very, very, very creative, artistic," Nomura said.
Nomura, who was Sakutori's 4-H leader, taught her sewing at Wailuku Hongwanji and at Baldwin High School, where Nomura was a teacher.
At Baldwin, Sakutori took an independent advanced sewing class with Nomura where the teen would tackle projects like sewing prom gowns and do beading work.
After graduating from Baldwin, Sakutori attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa's fashion design school, where she earned her degree in 1999.
At UH, Sakutori brought her old Bernina sewing machine along and sewed her own clothes.
After college, she worked at RPM Sales Inc., a local manufacturing company on Oahu that was producing women's Hawaiian wear and regular work wear that were sold in J.C. Penney, Liberty House and Sears stores.
She oversaw the production of the clothing.
But Sakutori wanted more.
"I decided, hey, if I'm going to do fashion, I better move to New York," she said.
So with a suitcase and her Bernina sewing machine in tow, the Maui girl moved to the Big Apple with her boyfriend, Rob Deveraturda, in November 2000.
"Oh boy, I was freezing," she recalled.
For about half a year, Sakutori couldn't find a job because employers were looking for designers that attended large fashion schools in New York.
She said that for financial support during those tough early years, she relied on Deveraturda, who had found a public relations job, and her parents, Judy and Alvin.
Finally, she found a job at SML Sport, a sweater company, of all places.
"It was completely not what I was used to. In Hawaii, we have no experience making sweaters," she said.
But, as an assistant designer at the company, she learned as much as she could and managed to design some logo shirts.
She then had her foot in the fashion door and picked up an assistant designer job at Kenneth Cole and then at Nine West.
She worked for The Limited as well as did freelance designer work for other companies.
But after spending seven years in New York, Sakutori said she missed her family, sometimes not seeing them for a couple of years.
Then, an opportunity to return home to Hawaii opened up in 2007 when she was able to purchase RPM Sales from the retiring owners.
"I felt that I could continue doing fashion here," she said. "It was always my dream to come back here and do fashion."
As owner, Sakutori inherited clothing labels such as Leinaala, Lauren M. Petities and Lauren Michelle. Some of the clothing can be found at Macy's and Sears.
Sakutori said she tried to launch her own line of silk dresses in 2007 and 2008 under the label Satori, but "people didn't want silk dresses here, it was cute but people didn't want to spend the (money)."
So she put her line on hold.
Then in 2009, she launched a revamped line of clothes under the Satori name. The line included knit wear, tops and bottoms as well as dresses.
They are being sold at Silvery Moon on Oahu.
But when she got a chance to sell her line at Nordstrom she had to use the Sakutori name because the name Satori was already trademarked.
Currently Sakutori's clothes are not being sold on Maui, but she said she hopes to get them on the Valley Isle and Kauai. A boutique sells her clothes in Hilo on the Big Island. The Nordstrom store on Oahu is the only Nordstrom that carries her line. She hopes it will go national.
For now, Sakutori is busy managing her company, where she oversees design, fabric cuts, instructions for seamstresses and the payroll.
She said that, unlike her designer jobs in New York where she sat at a desk and handled a lot of email to others in foreign countries, her work on Oahu is "very hands on."
Sakutori's brother, Jon, manages the production and shipping, and someone else assists with cutting the fabrics.
Sakutori said her family and Deveraturda's family loan their talents to her whether its for fashion shows or graphic work.
"It's fun. It's a lot of work, but it's fun. I work long hours, but it doesn't feel like I'm working. That's what's really great about it."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.